FanHouse Preview: Thunder
The goal of the Oklahoma City Thunder should be apparent: Rise from the dregs of the Western Conference and into the middle-of-the-pack. That's a realistic endeavor, and it will be the responsibility of coach Scott Brooks to get the Thunder there.
Nobody expects the Thunder to be lumped in with the Lakers, Spurs, Blazers, Nuggets, Mavericks or even Hornets. But it does seem doable for OKC to gain some separation from the Kings, Timberwolves and Grizzlies of the world.
Year by year, piece by piece, position by position, Oklahoma City has accumulated young talent. This should be the year they begin to grow up. In 2007, the Thunder drafted swingman Kevin Durant and traded for power forward Jeff Green.
OKC drafted point guard Russell Westbrook with the No. 4 pick in 2008, and followed that up with taking shooting guard James Harden with the No. 3 pick in the 2009 draft. Harden could be the most pro-ready of this year's rookie class, and that includes the Clippers' Blake Griffin.
It's now time for the Thunder to turn potential into production, maybe get north of 30 when it comes to wins. The only way that happens, though, is if Durant is committed to the process. As talented as Durant is, there are now issues about whether he's the kind of guy you can build around, the type of player and leader who makes teams and teammates better.
From this angle, those doubts seem a little premature. After all, Durant improved in critical areas in Year No. 2 of his career, including scoring, shooting percentage, rebounding and assists. He also cut down his rate of turnovers.
The next step for Durant is to score less, assist more and at least attempt to make a consistent and conscientious effort on defense. He's got better teammates this year than he has in the past, and it's up to him to begin showing he can better rely on them.
Where the Thunder might come up wanting is in the leadership department. They are a little short on veterans, a conscious decision made by general manager Sam Presti. In different ways, OKC has said goodbye to Earl Watson, Desmond Mason, Damien Wilkins and Chucky Atkins.
That leaves Etan Thomas as the only player 30 years of age or older who figures to be in the rotation.
It's almost as though Presti has made it clear to his young core that this is the year he expects them to mature. Winning 20-some games and yakking all season about potential apparently isn't going to cut it in 2009-10.
No, we're not talking playoffs. But we are talking about more wins, plain and simple.
Last Season By the Numbers
Record: 23-59 (1-12 under P.J. Carlesimo, 22-47 under Scott Brooks). Finished 5th in the Northwest Division, 13th in the Western Conference.
Offense: 102.9 points per 100 possessions, 29th in the NBA. 30th in shooting, 28th in turnover rate, 4th in offensive rebounding, 10th in free throw rate.
Defense: 109.4 points per 100 possessions, 20th in the NBA. 25th in shooting defense, 18th in opponent turnover rate, 13th in defensive rebounding, 8th in opponent free throw rate.
Top Performers: Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 25.3 points per game, and finished third in rebounding (6.5) and assists (2.8) and second in steals (1.3). Russell Westbrook tallied 5.3 assists per game. Nick Collison was the top rebounder at 6.9 rebounds per game in 26 minutes.Thabo Sefolosha averaged 1.1 blocks per game as a guard.
All statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.
Player to Watch
FanHouse's Matt Moore and Tom Ziller preview one player to watch from each team. Here's a snippet of Moore's post on Thunder forward Jeff Green.
Jeff Green is the other-other Thunder. If Russell Westbrook is The Edge to Kevin Durant's Bono, Jeff Green is one of the other U2 members that you don't actually know because they aren't The Edge or Bono. But if you haven't been paying attention to Green because you've been too busy calling your friends to tell them Kevin Durant is breaking your mindskull, take a second look at the power forward for the Thunder. Because if Oklahoma City is going to take the next step this season, it won't be on the back of Westbrook, but the man they call Predator.
See Moore's full post on Green.
IN: James Harden (draft), B.J. Mullens (draft), Etan Thomas (trade).
OUT: Chris Wilcox (free agency), Chucky Atkins (trade), Damien Wilkins (trade), Desmond Mason (free agency), Earl Watson (buy-out).